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NEWS 9.20.21: IA Mask Lawsuit, Daily NE C19 Dashboard Returns, IA Redistricting Map Hearings & More

The lawyer representing Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds in a federal lawsuit over mandatory mask use in schools has asked the judge to allow a temporary order that has allowed schools to implement mask mandates to expire next week. In its documents made public Monday, the state cited testimonials from mothers of school-age children who make unproven assertions that masks can harm children. The state provided testimonials from three women who said their children have medical issues that makes mask wearing difficult for them. That included an Ankeny mother who said her son has asthma and when he wears a mask he “does not receive an adequate amount of clean oxygen and is constantly breathing in germs,” a claim not supported by science.

The latest information from the Iowa Coronavirus Website shows Woodbury County with the highest positivity rate for new COVID-19 infections in northwest Iowa. The seven-day level is 15% with 464 new cases during that time.

Gov. Pete Ricketts is resurrecting a version of Nebraska’s daily virus reporting dashboard website because the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations has continued to rise. The state eliminated its daily virus dashboard in June at the same time the last of Ricketts’ emergency orders related to the pandemic were allowed to expire. Even though the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 remains well below last fall’s peak of 987, hospital capacity has been a concern in recent weeks because hospitals are so busy with non-COVID cases. Over the past week, the number of people hospitalized with the virus accounted for more than 10% of the state’s available hospital beds.

South Dakota health officials say currently about 63% of state residents age 12 and up have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine and nearly 58% are fully inoculated. The

Department of Health on Monday reported 446 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths since Friday. The latest deaths include three men and two women in their 60s and 70s. Active cases now stand at 7,927 with 58 of South Dakota’s 66 counties experienced high community spread, which means there are 100 cases or more per 100,000 people. 

President Joe Biden will ease foreign travel restrictions into the U.S. beginning in November and allow foreign nationals into the country if they have proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.

The new rules replace a hodgepodge of restrictions that had barred non-citizens who had been in certain countries in the prior 14 days from entering the U.S. It would allow families and others who have been separated by the travel restrictions for 18 months to plan for long-awaited reunifications.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has joined 25 other governors in asking for a meeting with President Biden about operations at the US-Mexico border.

In a release sent out from the Governor’s office Monday morning, Reynolds claimed major drug and crime issues in Iowa can be linked back to undocumented immigrants.

In April, Reynolds said 19 migrant girls were flown to the Des Moines International Airport without notifying local authorities.

A public hearing is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. tonight to give Iowans a chance to comment on the plan to reconfigure Iowa’s congressional and legislative district boundaries.

Plan 1 for redistricting to account for population shifts over the past decade was released last Thursday. The maps for new districts were drawn by staff in the non-partisan Legislative Services Agency and, by state law, those staff members may not consider where incumbent lawmakers live. Radio Iowa reports that’s to prevent “gerrymandering” used in other states to ensure the party in power keeps its political advantage.

Tonight’s hearing will be held online from 7 to 9:30 p.m. You can find information on the Iowa Legislature’s website about how to testify and watch. There will be another “virtual” public hearing tomorrow from noon until 3 p.m. and a third public hearing on Wednesday from 6 to 8:30 p.m.

The nation’s longest-serving attorney general is seeking another term in Iowa. Seventy-seven-year-old Tom Miller said Saturday that is will seek in 11th term in office in 2022 because he has “unfinished business” he wants to take care of. Miller has already held the job for nearly 40 years. Miller said he wants to play a role in deciding how Iowa spends the hundreds of millions of dollars it is due to receive from settlements with the makers and distributors of opioid painkillers. And he wants to continue his work with antitrust cases involving technology giants Facebook and Google.

A lobbying group has formed to help influence the rules Nebraska may eventually write to regulate the sale of cannabis even though Nebraska has yet to legalize cannabis use in any form. John Cartier, president of the Nebraska Cannabis Association said it expects some form of marijuana legalization to be approved in the state in coming years, so it makes sense to be prepared. Voters may have a chance in 2022 to decide several ballot initiatives that would legalize some form of marijuana use, so the state may have to start regulating the business as soon as January 2023.

The Black Hills candidate who wants to unseat South Dakota Sen. John Thune in next year’s Republican primary says he demonstrated in Washington, D.C. on Jan. 6 against President Joe Biden’s victory. Mark Mowry, of Spearfish, says his candidacy is fueled by Thune’s unwillingness to question the validity of the presidential election.

Mowry told the Argus Leader that he participated in demonstrations near Capitol Hill the day Congress was set to confirm the results of the Nov. 3 election, but he was not part of the riots that broke out and led to protesters storming the Capitol. 

South Dakota legislative leaders are distributing a petition to lawmakers asking them to support a special session to consider impeaching Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg for a car crash last year that killed a pedestrian. Two-thirds of both the House and Senate must support it to convene the special session. Lawmakers would meet in November, the day after they are scheduled to hold a special session to consider new legislative districts. The attorney general pleaded no contest to a pair of misdemeanors last month. 

A blood provider prominent in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota is urging the community to donate blood.

In an online video, LifeServe Blood Center says the blood supply is at a critically low level, and many types of blood have less than a day supply left.

Due to the pandemic, LifeServe is also having issues with mobile blood drives.

Mission accomplished. Two Nebraska college students have now visited all 939 towns in Iowa. 

Seth Varner and Austin Schneider set out their historic road trip in May. They've been documenting their travels on their Facebook page, "Visit 939 Iowa."

Their last stop was Carter Lake, near their hometown of Omaha. 

They are working on a book about their adventure. They plan to release it this November.

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